Eggplant Dip Topped with Fattoush Salad

fattoush-eggplant-dip2

I realize I profess my love for eggplants all the time, but this eggplant dip topped with a variation on fattoush salad is everything I dream about when I dream about food (the vast majority of my waking hours). If you’ve read this recipe for Ridiculously Simple and Creamy Eggplant Dip and tried it out for yourself, whether you left it true to form or tried any of the other suggested additions, then you’ll know the value of roasting a whole eggplant until it looks like a shrivelled up witch’s foot. This isn’t a true fattoush salad as I’ve added a few extra ingredients but it’s definitely reminiscent of the original; I admit that when I have a jar of pickled peperoncini peppers in the fridge I feel compelled to add them to just about everything. This has become a beloved party dip over the span of a month and I’ve eaten it solo in my pyjamas for dinner at least 5 times (I don’t bother with anything to use as a dipping vessel, a fork does just fine thank you very much). As long as you make sure to drain the cut up tomatoes and cucumber on some paper towel before adding them to the eggplant base you can have leftovers the next day, just be warned that raw garlic seems to become exponentially stronger after a night sitting in the fridge – approach with caution.

Brown shallow earthenware bowl filled with eggplant dip and with a topping of fattoush salad

eggplant dip topped with fattoush salad:

for the eggplant dip:

1 eggplant, scored several times and roasted whole at 425 degrees for 1 hour or until black and shrivelled on the outside

2 Tbsp. olive oil

2 Tbsp. plain yogurt

1-3 cloves of garlic, finely minced

1 tsp. Ras El Hanout

Juice of 1/2 to 1 lemon

Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste

Scoop out the custardy eggplant insides and combine in a large bowl with the rest of the ingredients. Use a large fork to whip the mixture into a frenzy until it becomes a creamy and relatively smooth dip. Set aside while you make the fattoush salad.

for the fattoush salad:

About 1/2 cup cucumber chopped into smallish pieces, laid out and drained on a piece of paper towel for 20 minutes

About 1/2 cup tomato cut into small chunks, laid out and drained on a piece of paper towel for 20 minutes

3 scallions, thinly sliced on the diagonal

5 pickled peperoncini peppers, roughly chopped

1/2 cup of parsley, torn into very small pieces

Juice of 1 lemon

2 Tbsp. olive oil

2 tsp. sumac

Generous pinch of dried chili flakes

Kosher salt

In a salad bowl gently toss together the cucumber, tomato, scallions, and peperoncini peppers. Drizzle with the lemon juice and olive oil and top with the sumac and chili flakes, adding a pinch of kosher salt to round out the flavours.

Transfer the eggplant dip to a shallow bowl and spoon the fattoush salad over top, adding another drizzle of olive oil for presentation and extra flavour. Serve with pita bread or crispy baguette slices, or with a fork and nothing else.

Walking in the rain for long periods of time makes me feel more alive than a stroll on a sunny day. The ocean is best when it’s entirely greyscale, and listening to the combined sound of water lapping on the shore and rain falling on wet leaves is like a being wrapped in the most comforting blanket imaginable. But I’ve realized it’s also been a month of depressing music, lots of downtempo, minimal everything, and more Nick Drake than you can shake a stick at. I’ve been making the attempt for a full single day now, and although it’s been tempting to listen to the new Casino Versus Japan album nonstop I’ve been filling my ears with Teeel’s gloriously synthy good times. And you know what? I had a bit more bounce in my step tonight when I walked to the beach in the pouring rain.

Teeel – Temple of the Sun

Marinated Olives with Orange and Rosemary

Clear glass dish with marinated olives with orange and rosemary on a white, green, and red striped tablecloth.

Do you need a quick, dare I say effortless, appetizer for your next gathering? Something less formal and more of a help-yourself-my-lovely-friends ordeal, but still sophisticated enough that it looks elegant decanted into a few pretty dishes? Look no further dear reader, this bright little recipe lets the olives do the work with the help of a few vibrant additions to the overall look and taste. Rosemary and orange zest are old friends in this recipe, seemingly oddball in combination with the olives but somehow it just works. Give the olives at least a day to marinate in the fridge and then put them out for your guests in a few well-chosen beautiful dishes (remember to include a little container for the pits as well) and let them have at it.

marinated olives with orange and rosemary:

About 2 cups of mixed olives, with pits (reserve the brine for storing any leftover olives)

2 or 3 big sprigs of fresh rosemary

1 orange, coarsely zested and juiced

3 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced

Olive oil

Freshly cracked black pepper

In a large bowl or container stir together the olives, rosemary, orange zest and juice, garlic, and a few good glugs of olive oil. Give the mix a generous addition of freshly cracked black pepper, stir well and try an olive to make sure the flavours are on the right track. Allow to marinate overnight or for at least 12 hours and up to 48 hours, store any leftover olives in the reserved brine (these make an excellent midnight snack as you stand in the front of the open fridge pondering what your real snack will be).

And speaking of midnight snacks, cold roasted radishes dipped in sea salt make an excellent last-minute addition to your day…

Roasted pink radishes on a white plate.

Bowery Electric provides the ideal downtempo soundtrack to mulling over your late night eating habits; I should know, this album has served me well through my important snack food decision making for the last 20 years or so.

Bowery Electric – Empty Words

Autumn Cocktail with Rye and a Ginger Orange Simple Syrup

Clear glass tumbler glass containing ice, rye, ginger beer, simple syrup, and sparkling water next to a small prep bowl with candied ginger and orange peel from the simple syrup.

I know it’s autumn when I make the leap from summery gin cocktails to classic rye and gingers. If you don’t have Canadian rye whiskey available, you can go ahead and use regular whiskey; I prefer rye because it’s smoother than regular whiskey and I find that its golden honeyed taste goes down a lot easier. Bourbon is also delicious in this recipe, but I wouldn’t use scotch if given the option – too much bite overwhelms the subtle orange and ginger flavours from the simple syrup. The simple syrup is versatile and can be used to doctor up plain sparkling water and it adds a lovely warmth to a Moscow Mule with a squeeze of lime.

for the ginger and orange simple syrup:

2 inch knob of fresh ginger, peeled and cut into thin pieces

About 2 inches of orange peel, I like to use mandarin orange peel

3/4 cup white sugar

3/4 cup water

Combine the water and sugar with the orange peel and fresh ginger in a small sauce pan. Heat over medium-high heat until gently simmering and the sugar has dissolved. Remove the simple syrup from the heat and allow to sit for about 45 minutes before taking out the ginger and orange peel. Store the simple syrup in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to 3 weeks.

for the cocktail:

(makes one cocktail)

2 Tbsp. ginger and orange simple syrup

1 1/2 oz. rye whiskey

Gingerale

Sparkling water

Fill a cocktail shaker with ice and add the rye and simple syrup. Shake vigorously and pour into a glass filled with ice. Top with equal parts ginger beer and sparkling water; look out the window at the beautiful fall foliage and enjoy!

I’ve been working on an autumn playlist over the last few days they’re all a bit morose, making this song a perfect fit. I don’t really make playlists for other seasons (besides Christmas, because of course!) but I feel like October is more of an immersive experience than anything else. I just want to do everything possible to fully experience this time of year both inside and outside (and speaking of outside, I’m definitely not above making a rye and ginger for the road – nature is often best experienced with a cocktail in a travel mug!).

Lou Reed & John Cale – Slip Away (A Warning)

 

Ridiculously Simple and Creamy Eggplant Dip (Vegan, Too!)

A white round bowl full of creamy eggplant dip, garnished with fresh basil and mint beside a bowl of grilled baguette slices.

I’ve had the pleasure of cooking for my London, Ontario family this past week which has been extra pleasurable because I’ve been able to do it in a proper backyard with a barbecue and copious glasses of wine and gin and tonics (oof, my liver will need a break after this vacation). I made this eggplant dip as an easy appetizer and served it with a big bowl of grilled baguette slices, resulting in a creamy and chewy combination of textures that made everyone exclaim how tasty this recipe is. That’s the best part of this recipe, it’s ridiculously simple and endlessly adaptable but this is the dip at its most simple: Greek yogurt, tahini, sesame oil, soy sauce, minced ginger, cumin, and all sorts of fresh and dried herbs could be added (or not!) and it will always be fantastic.

ridiculously simple and creamy eggplant dip:

1 large eggplant

1-2 finely minced cloves of garlic

Juice of one lemon

Olive oil

Kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper

Dried chilies

Lots of fresh basil and mint, cut in a chiffonade

  1. Pierce the eggplant several times with a fork. Either grill the eggplant over direct heat until shrunken and almost inedible looking OR do the same in a very hot oven for up to an hour. If you have a gas oven you can also directly char the eggplant on the flames until caved in and black.
  2. Scoop out the custardy eggplant insides into a bowl and whip up with a for until a super creamy consistency is created.
  3. Stir in the garlic, lemon juice, a few generous slugs of olive oil, salt and pepper. Decant into a shallow bowl and drizzle with more olive oil. Top with dried chilies, fresh basil and mint. Serve with grilled or toasted baguette slices that have been brushed with olive oil before toasting.

Richard Hawley is good hanging out with your dad in the backyard while barbecuing music, I think anyone would agree with that. He’s like Johnny Cash, but new and different so you can talk about it with each other. Plus there’s something fall-ish about Richard Hawley, warm and inviting, lush and poignant.

Richard Hawley – Run For Me

Chicken Cacciatore

Large cast iron skillet full of chicken cacciatore sprinkled with fresh herbs on a blue tablecloth.

As I’ve said before, I’m always tempted  to go the fussy route when cooking for other people. I know the food I write about is often and ideally simple, but believe me when I say that it takes lot of back and forth conversation in my head to arrive at the meals I write about. So, after an evening spent buried under cookbooks and cooking magazines, with notes and grocery lists jotted down several times over, I stopped to think about what I would actually love to eat more than anything else at that moment in time. I’d been thinking about my grandma’s chicken cacciatore lately, served with a paper napkin on her white and navy blue flower-lined Corningware dishes, and I decided right then and there that chicken cacciatore would be on the menu for Lela’s birthday dinner. You could substitute other chicken pieces for the thighs, but I think that in general the dark meat tastes better – chicken breasts could work if pounded thin in order to prevent them from drying out. I love chicken cacciatore with buttered egg noodles, but I just happen to love buttered egg noodles in any context so I’m approaching this recipe with a firm bias, buttered white rice would also be delicious if noodles are absent from your pantry. If you don’t have anything you can use to cook with both on top of and in the stove, just transfer the chicken and sauce into a baking pan before popping into the oven.

chicken cacciatore:

2 Tbsp. + 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil

8 chicken thighs (the skin is up to you, but I think it imparts some notable flavour to the finished product

1 medium onion, chopped into a fine dice

2 sweet peppers, the sweetest ones you can find (colour is secondary)

2 cups thinly sliced button mushrooms

3 cloves of garlic, finely minced

A scant cup of dry white wine

1 28 oz. can of diced tomatoes

2 tsp. Italian herb seasoning

1/2 tsp. smoked paprika

1/4 tsp. red chili flakes

Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Small handful of fresh parsley and basil,  chopped

Buttered egg noodles or rice for serving

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a large cast-iron skillet or Dutch oven brown the chicken thighs in 2 Tbs. of vegetable oil over medium high heat. Transfer the chicken to a large plate and add the rest of the oil to the skillet or Dutch oven, lower the heat to medium or even medium-low in order to prevent burning the vegetables.
  2. Cook the onions, red peppers, mushrooms, and garlic in the oil until they begin to soften, giving them a light dusting of salt halfway through. Stir in the dried Italian seasoning, smoked paprika, and red chili flakes before adding the white wine and tomatoes, deglazing the pan by scraping up any flavourful burnt bits of chicken that might be stuck to the bottom of the pan.
  3. Stir in a small amount of the chopped herb mixture and taste the sauce to check for seasoning, adjust accordingly. Add the chicken thighs, nestling them into the sauce, and cook uncovered in the oven for 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with the rest of the parsley and basil. Serve over buttered egg noodles or rice; if kept separate from the starches the sauce and chicken will keep for another 2 days in the fridge.

It’s funny listening to music under the influence of very different time periods of your life. When I first bought this CD it coincided with Fiona Apple’s appearance on the cover of Seventeen magazine (which I had a subscription to). I remember liking her for her how cool she came across as well as being a good singer, who could forget that speech at the 1997 MTV VMAs? And now, as an adult, I’m like “oh yeah! She’s also an incredible songwriter and lyricist!”  Funny how these things shift, and funny that despite my personal reactions she’s carried me through a million and half sullen afternoons of my own.

Fiona Apple – Sullen Girl

Cucumber, Tomato, and Avocado Salad with Lemon, Feta, and Chilies

An orange plate full of cucumber, tomato, and avocado salad on a bright pink and blue tablecloth. The salad is garnished with chilies, feta cheese, and scallions.

Even just a cursory glance at my blog will expose my adoration for pretty little salads. My need for introverted activities that I can conduct as a mindfulness exercises are very real, and I find the exercise of composing carefully cut up fruits and vegetables an essential part of refocusing and staying present during my week. A long day, a tedious bus ride, and the fact that it was a rainy Thursday led me to this evening’s salad. You can use more or less of any ingredient, or omit one of them if you don’t have it immediately available. Use less or no chilies if you’re not as keen on the heat, my love for it knows no bounds so I like to use a whole chili pepper per recipe, which conveniently is exactly enough for one person.

cucumber, tomato, and avocado salad with lemon, feta, and chilies:

(makes one lovely salad for one lucky person)

1/2 English cucumber, partially peeled and sliced into thick half moons

2 small tomatoes, cut into wedges

1/2 an avocado, thinly sliced

1 red chili pepper, thinly sliced

1 oz. feta cheese of your choice, crumbled

1 scallion, thinly sliced

Half a lemon, zest and juice

1 Tbsp. olive oil

Freshly cracked pepper

Pinch of kosher salt to taste

Arrange the cucumber, tomatoes, and avocado on a plate or shallow bowl. Scatter the chili pepper, feta cheese, and scallion over the salad. Drizzle over lemon juice and olive oil, top with lemon zest, freshly cracked pepper, and salt to taste. Admire your work and then enjoy immediately.

It’s the first day of September, which means I can now start playing all my favourite fall music (even though officially I should still be sticking with summer playlists).  Fall and winter music is the best music, in my opinion, and Mazzy Star is the best way I can think of to usher in the first hints of fall (Hope Sandoval’s solo work is more summery, come to think of it). I was so happy with Mazzy Star’s newest album, it’s just as broody as their older work and just as eerily melancholy.  More than anything, I want to switch from my rotating stock of sundresses into one of the many velvet versions I secretly favour.

Mazzy Star -Seasons of Your Day

Best Ever Classic Red Wine Sangria

Classic red wine sangria in a clear glass pitcher that is filled with sliced apples and oranges. Laid out on a white tablecloth with a glass of sangria to the side.

Sometimes it’s good to revisit the classics when you’re hosting a dinner party. It can be tempting to try and come up with something novel and it can also be tempting to serve multiple courses that are each a spectacle in their own right. Last weekend I had my friend Lela over for her birthday, we had a pitcher of this best ever classic red wine sangria and a big pan of chicken cacciatore (recipe will be coming soon). The food was simple, but effective, and it was so nice to prepare dinner and talk while drinking a few glasses of sangria. I know there are a million recipes out there right now for sangria, and I’ve enjoyed several variations over the summer with all kinds of different additions and flavours. I’ll always return to dependable red wine sangria though, it’s somewhat dangerously drinkable and of course the booze-soaked fruit is a whole other adventure. The most important thing with this recipe is allowing the fruit the opportunity to soak up all the alcohol overnight, if you drink it immediately after you stir everything together you’re really going to miss out on the subtle fruity sweetness that a couple of apples and oranges add to the finished product.

best ever classic red wine sangria:

1 bottle of fairly mellow and very cheap red wine (I like merlot best, anything really spicy or big in flavour will ruin the sangria’s easy drinkability)

1/2 cup brandy (probably something you don’t have lying around, but buy it once and you have it for all the sangrias and classy brandy drinking sessions you want)

1/2 cup Triple Sec or Cointreau (again, buy it once and then make all the fruity drinks you can possible think of)

2 sweet apples, sliced into thin pieces

2 oranges, peel left on and sliced into thin pieces

Club soda

Fill a large pitcher with the apple and orange slices. Add the red wine, brandy, and Triple Sec or Cointreau  and stir to combine. Refrigerate the sangria overnight. When you’re ready to serve it either top the pitcher with plenty of club soda or add the club soda to the glass. Make sure to serve with lots of ice and fruit in the glass.

Much like sangria and speaking of revisiting the classics, Echo & The Bunnymen never fails to put me in an excellent mood.

Echo & The Bunneymen – Lips Like Sugar